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Biden Trip to Saudi Arabia Is Set, but Energy Help Is Not

WASHINGTON — President Biden’s much-anticipated trip to Saudi Arabia is formally scheduled for next month, the White House announced Tuesday, but officials downplayed the chances of getting much immediate help in stabilizing energy markets as a result of the Russian invasion. from Ukraine.

Mr Biden will make his first trip to the Middle East as president from July 13 to July 16, stopping first in Israel and the West Bank before heading to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where he will meet Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. reports the report. mastermind behind the brutal 2018 murder of a Saudi dissident with American ties.

The trip has already sparked waves of criticism even before the official announcement. Human rights activists, media figures and even some of Biden’s fellow Democrats rejected the idea of ​​a president shaking hands with a Saudi leader who allegedly ordered the killing and dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi, a leading critic of the royal family the city lived. United States and wrote a column for The Washington Post.

Mr Biden and his staff have maintained in recent days that the decision to visit Saudi Arabia — effectively stripping it of pariah status — had more to do with safety issues than the price of gasoline.

“The Saudis’ pledges have nothing to do with energy,” Biden told reporters on Sunday, citing national security concerns. “It has to do with much bigger issues than the energy piece.”

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said on Monday that while energy will be a topic of discussion, the relationship between nations was much more complex than that. “To look at this journey as if it were all about oil isn’t — it would just be wrong to do that,” she said.

OPEC Plus, the group of oil-producing countries led by Saudi Arabia, already announced this month that it would modestly increase production in July and August, and US officials have said they expect the bloc to increase it even more in the fall. push up. But that pledge has so far had little effect on the price at the pump, which hit an average of $5 a gallon in the United States for the first time this weekend.

A government official who briefed reporters on the president’s trip on the condition of anonymity under White House ground rules said Mr Biden would meet in Jeddah with Prince Mohammed, the country’s de facto ruler, but would not say whether the president would raise the Khashoggi case . A formal White House statement announcing the trip listed human rights as one of the issues expected to be addressed, along with climate change, Iran’s nuclear program and the war in Yemen.

Mr Biden will travel to the region at a time of tremendous volatility. Negotiations to revive a 2015 pact that would see Iran once again refrain from pursuing nuclear weapons appear to be faltering, raising fears that Israel will take action itself, with tacit support from Saudi Arabia and other Arab Gulf countries also view Tehran as a threat. But Israel’s fragile governing coalition, led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, is faltering and there is no guarantee it will last even until Mr Biden’s visit.

At the same time, the president will seek to re-establish America’s place as a more honest mediator between Israelis and Palestinians after former President Donald J. Trump’s longstanding pro-Israel inclination, and reaffirm America’s support for a two-state solution. Mr. Biden will also meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, the first such presidential meeting since Mr. Trump’s 2017 visit before their relationship ended. Mr. Biden is likely to meet Mr. Abbas in Bethlehem.

But aides said Mr Biden would also show his commitment to Israel’s security, possibly by visiting one of the United States’ defense systems. And he will encourage the increasing normalization of diplomatic relations between Israel and the Arab states under the so-called Abraham Accords, which began in the final months of Trump’s tenure.

Aides said Mr Biden would also attend a virtual summit with fellow leaders of a new bloc called the I2-U2, which represents Israel, India, the United Arab Emirates and the United States.

In Jeddah, Mr. Biden will meet the leaders of nine Arab countries: Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and Oman, all of which are members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, along with Egypt, Iraq and Jordan.

Defending the president’s decision to travel to Saudi Arabia after labeling it a pariah state, officials said he always intended to recalibrate the relationship rather than break it altogether, urging that he still stood for human rights.

But they emphasized Saudi cooperation in reaching a truce in the long-running war in neighboring Yemen between the Saudi Arabia-led coalition and the Iran-backed Houthi rebels, which has devastated the country, leaving millions hungry and impoverished. The ceasefire, now in its ninth week, was just extended for another two months, and officials said it illustrated the benefits of US involvement in Saudi Arabia.

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